Hurricane warning issued for South Caribbean region

As of late this morning, tropical storm Gonzalo has been upgraded to hurricane status. The tropical storm that has plagued much of the south Caribbean over the weekend continues to move west and is expected to gain strength over the next several days.

A hurricane warning, along with tropical storm warnings and watches, has been issued for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Leeward Islands by Weather.com. Gonzalo is moving at 10 to 15 mph.

Scott Stripling, a meteorologist tracking the storm from the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says, “It is strengthening very slowly. It’s not out of the question that we could see it become a hurricane later this evening or tonight.”

Winds gusts of up to 88 mph have already been recorded at V.C. Bird International Airport on Antigua, with images of heavy rainfall. It’s expected that Gonzalo will bring high winds and heavy showers with tropical storm force across the Leeward Islands today, then into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico into late Monday and early Tuesday.

Due to the storm’s structure, hurricane force winds are now expected in the Virgin Islands as well as the north and eastern portions of Puerto Rico. Weather Channel warns these areas can expect up to 12 inches of rain over the next few days, possibly creating flash floods and mud / rock slides in mountainous terrain. Ocean swells generated by the tropical storm will create dangerous rip currents and surf along the beaches.

Gonzalo is expected to head northeast then north around the edge of subtropical high pressure in the central Atlantic Ocean. As the storm begins heading east mid-week, it may intensify into a Category 2 or stronger hurricane.

Sherrod James, deputy director of the National Office of Disaster Services, confirmed that Tropical Storm Gonzalo has already caused damage in Antigua as it knocked out power, downed trees and tore roofs off homes.

Minister of Social Transformation Samantha Marshall said, “Based on recent updates, we are asking persons to stay within their homes and those persons who need to move from vulnerable areas to seek first to move with family and friends or if absolutely necessary to move to the shelters.”

Authorities say that at this time, the storm does not pose any direct threat to the US mainland.